If You Really Want to Democratize Publishing, You Need Free Riders

Over on make.wordpress.org, there’s a post titled, Open Source and the Free Rider Problem. In it, Josepha cites a few social science problems. One is the Tragedy of the Commons, which I’ve talked about. The other “problem” is the Free Rider Problem, and it’s a little bit different. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia

In the social sciences, the free-rider problem is a type of market failure that occurs when those who benefit from resources, public goods, or services of a communal nature do not pay for them or under-pay. Free riders are a problem because while not paying for the good, they may continue to access or consume it. Thus, the good may be under-produced, overused or degraded. Additionally… the presence of free riders cause this prosocial behavior to deteriorate…

This is a pretty damning statement, but it makes clear how the WordPress Foundation (or at least those who have the privilege of being paid to contribute) thinks of those who don’t contribute. 

But there are two problems with introducing the free rider problem as one plaguing WordPress and open source.

This is a False Analogy

There is a strong false analogy here. Open source software is not a diminishable good. If I’m a free rider who’s eating apples I’m not paying for, there are fewer apples for other people to eat. If I am a free rider who’s going to a hospital because I’m sick, I am taking up a bed and a doctor and a nurse that someone else who is paying for it now can’t get.

Open source software is developed and released and can be downloaded as many times as possible without the product being under-produced, overused, or degraded. So already comparing non-contributors to free riders is on a weak footing.

You Need Non-Contributors to Grow

The other problem is that the WordPress community and the WordPress Foundation celebrate every time we get a single percentage increase in market share. Matt himself has said that he wants to get to a 50% market share. You cannot have that goal and complain about free riders.

So what do we do? How to do we solve the free rider “problem?”

We don’t.

You Celebrate the Free Riders.

If you want to democratize publishing, you’re going to have free riders. Everyone who uses WordPress doesn’t know how to code. Everyone who uses WordPress is not as deeply embedded in WordPress as the people who use make.wordpress.org. 

But complaining and calling non-contributors a problem with certainly turn them away. If I’m going to go download WordPress and see that I’m considered a free rider for using this free software, I’m going to use something else. At least Ghost understands the value of their software and the fact that the vast majority of users have no interest in contributing.

I keep thinking about A Tale of Two Keynote. In the creator economy, it’s, “Yes, let’s help everybody make money. We value work. And we value that you want to make money.”

And this article about free riders is just another that makes me think, “We only value you in so far as you can contribute to us.” 

It just continues to push the narrative that the only valuable people in the WordPress community are the ones who contribute to the project in some way. 

And if you’re going to keep talking like that fine. But when you continue to lose market share because of it, don’t wonder why. 

I Want to See WordPress Grow

It’s easy to think I’ve gotten cynical about WordPress. But I think that WordPress is incredibly valuable for creators. It really kills me that creators and other people who can’t contribute are viewed, pejoratively, as free riders.

I want to see WordPress continue to grow. What I want to see less of are complaints about more people using it without contributing. 

Because if you really want to democratize publishing, then you can’t expect everyone to contribute. And you have to accept and welcome the free riders.

Transcript

Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of WP Review. This episode’s gonna be a little bit different because it’s essentially a three-segment episode. I’m going to tell you what’s coming down the pike for this show. I’m going to give you my thoughts on the make blog post about open source on the Frree Rider “problem”.

And then I am going to play a deep cut from my old creator toolkits podcast about building your mailing list with and without WordPress.

So first, what’s coming down the pike? I’ve mentioned here, before that, I’m trying to position this more, less of a, news show and more as a, how does WordPress work in the greater world show? And specifically creators because the creator economy is growing. And so with that in mind, I’m working on a series called WordPress versus where I pit WordPress against a bunch of platforms designed for creators. And then talk about how I would do it with WordPress, weighing the pros and cons.

So for example, one of the first ones up is the platform: Buy me a coffee, a simple donation. It’s a platform. Very simple, to be honest. And then how I would do it with WordPress would say, GiveWP.  And then another one perhaps is eachable. And then how I’d do it in WordPress with Learndash or Sensei?

So that’s what I’m working on. It’s taking a little bit longer than I expected. But I want to thank GoDaddy for their support to be able to make that content happen. I’m really excited. And those episodes will drop kind of, as they’re done less on the weekly Cadence since this show’s been on a little bit of a summer break. So that is what’s coming down the pike.

In this episode, again, this is gonna be a deep cut from creator toolkits where it’s building your mailing list with and without WordPress. But I do want to have a little bit of relevant news because I have strong opinions about again, kind of what this means for the creator economy. And honestly, the economy outside people who can physically contribute to WordPress.

So, Josepha has this post over on [make.wordpress.org] called Open Source and the Free Rider Problem. And she cites the Tragedy of the Commons, which I have talked about. And you know how I feel about that? Or you can look at my state of the word coverage to figure out how I feel about that. 

The Free Rider Problem is a little bit different. And I’m reading this directly from Wikipedia.

“In social sciences, the Free Rider Problem is a type of market failure that occurs when those who benefit from resources, public goods, or services of communal nature do not pay for them or underpay. Free Riders are a problem because while not paying for the goods, they may continue to access or consume them. Thus, the good may be under-produced, overused, and degraded.” 

So, first of all, I think there is a strong false dichotomy here. Because open source software Is not a diminishable good. If I’m a free rider who’s eating apples I’m not paying for, there are fewer apples for other people to eat. If I am a free rider who’s going to a hospital because I’m sick, I am taking up a bed and a doctor, and a nurse that someone else now who’s paying for can’t.

Open source software is developed and released and can be downloaded as many times as possible without the product being under-produced, overused, or degraded. So already the Free Rider Problem is,  I’m not gonna say offensive, but it’s certainly a false dichotomy.

The other reason I have a problem with this is that WordPress, the WordPress community, and the WordPress foundation celebrate every time we get a single percentage increase in market share. And Matt himself has said that he wants to get to 50% market share. You cannot have that goal and complain about Free Riders. 

And I know it’s a complaint about Free Riders because this post talks about how we solve the Free Rider Problem. We don’t solve the Free Rider Problem. 

If you want, if you wanna democratize publishing, you’re going to have free riders because you don’t…everybody who uses WordPress doesn’t know how to code. Everyone who uses WordPress Is not as deeply embedded in WordPress as the people who use [make.wordpress.org]. But if they see stuff like this, right?

If I’m gonna go download WordPress and I’m like, what’s the…I’m a free rider for downloading this free software, I’m just gonna go to Teachable and use that instead. 

I am thinking about the Tale of Two Keynotes episodes I did a few weeks ago where in the creator economy it’s, “Yes, Let’s help everybody make money. We value work and we value that you want to make money.” 

And this post is just another post that makes me think “We only value you in so far as you can contribute to us.”

So the post ends with this, I’ll read it directly, “The builders and extenders of WordPress are invested in this software, being the best for everyone using it. Collectively, we support the creation and maintenance of WordPress through our community and contribute. How can we rebalance the tenacious need for contribution with the immense benefit WordPress brings to everyone including our free riders and contributors?? 

Again, I think if you are… I think this is a false dichotomy or a false analogy, maybe is the right word.  Because the code is not diminished code. And yes, maybe there’s more support, but I don’t think the support growth is exponential on the word on the contributors in the WordPress foundation.  And maybe I’m wrong and if I’m wrong, somebody tells me that.

You know, somebody made a comment. They’re not convinced. I think they’re making the same point I just made. It was very long but I just…I’m not sold. And it just continues to push the narrative that the only valuable people in the WordPress community are the ones who contribute to the project in some way.

And if you’re gonna keep talking like that, fine. But when you continue to lose market share, because of that, don’t wonder why. 

So there you go. There’s my hot take. The hot takes I promise not to give. But again, you know, I’m doing this WordPress versus series because I think that WordPress is incredibly valuable for creators. And it just kind of bumps me out that creators or that people who can’t contribute to WordPress are viewed as pejoratively as Free Riders, right? Using the term Free Riders and saying the Free Rider Problem is a pejorative term. 

So I wanna see WordPress continue to grow. What I wanna see less of is complaints about more people using it with those people not contributing. Because if you really want to democratize publishing, then you can’t expect everybody to contribute. 

All right. So those are my thoughts on that. Keep an eye out for the WordPress Versus series  That’s coming down the pike. 

Before I get into the Creator Toolkit episode, let’s hear a word from our sponsor, GoDaddy Pro.

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In this episode, we’re going to explore what should be a fundamental tool of any business: the mailing list.

We’ll look at some of the best services out there and how to integrate them as well as some simple techniques for building your list.

Hey, everybody. And welcome to the Creator Toolkit. The podcast about building stuff on the web. I’m Joe Casabona. And today we’re gonna talk about the mailing list, and mailing list services.

So why should you build a list? I think that’s what we should first talk about. Why should we even collect email addresses?

When I first started my blog, I wasn’t very diligent about this because I didn’t see the point. But those emails are the people who become your biggest fans. And those are the people who you can sell your products or services to. They’re also the people who will give you feedback. In short, they’ll become the community where you can build your business on.

So in this episode, we’ll explore a few tools for email list building. A regular email form, MailChimp, ConvertKit, and Drip. There are tons more, but I think that these do a nice job of covering the various feature sets out. So let’s get started.

First, We’ll look at the regular email form. If you’re looking to start off simple and free, you could start with a simple homemade form. Using WordPress offers lots of solutions where users can fill out a form and you can get their email addresses. And the submission will be logged into WordPress. 

The two I recommend are Ninja Forms, which is free. And Gravity Forms, which starts at $39 a year and offers a lot of great features. 

But you can do the same thing with a Google form if you’re not using WordPress or another website building solution. The benefit here is that you don’t have to pay for anything to get started no matter how many people sign up.

So where Convertkit for example, limits you to 1000 subscribers in the basic tier, or MailChimp limits you by a certain number of subscribers, you will never be limited by the number of people who fill out your form. But there is a big drawback. You have to manage the entire list yourself. That means if someone unsubscribes, you need to delete them off the list. You’ll also need to import any new addresses into your email program when you do send out mailings. This can get unwieldy after just a few dozen signups. 

So you might want to start this way. But moving to a mailing list tool is something you’ll wanna do quickly once you grow beyond just a couple of dozen. 

And I recommend MailChimp as your next step. MailChimp is the perfect tool for managing your email list. And it’s free for up to 2000 users or 12,000 emails sent per month. It gives you everything you need including simple forms, landing pages, and the ability to maintain multiple lists. 

So if you have your blog subscribers as one list, and people who have purchased from you as another, you can keep those separate and send separate emails and the like. It’s an excellent tool that served me really well while I used it. 

And there are lots of great companies that use it too. There are beautiful templates and it’s easy to use. I personally think it’s the easiest one that I’ve used of the bunch. You can integrate with e-commerce stores, and when you get to the paid tiers, you can do advanced tagging segmentation and all sorts of split or AB testing so you can see what titles work. If certain images work better than others, and things like that. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I did not use MailChimp to its full potential before I made the jump to what I currently use, which is convertkit. 

So ConvertKit has been tagged as something for bloggers, right? But in my opinion, ConvertKit is for those looking to take their email list to the next level. I was able to import my MailChimp list, tag, users accordingly and build out all sorts of different segments. So I have one email address and they are tagged as a student. Someone who’s interested in my coaching program, someone who listens to my podcast, et cetera.

I also have lots of different forms and automated email sequences to give my subscribers the most value without bombarding their inbox. For example, instead of emailing my entire list about my HTML and CSS course, I instead only email those who’ve expressed interest in learning HTML and CSS. And I can filter out those who have already purchased the course to boot.

ConvertKit starts at $29 a month for up to a thousand subscribers. So there is no free tier for Convertkit. But if you are serious about making money with your email, I think Convertkit is hugely helpful for that. I can already see it paying the returns on its investment to me while I have a modest following. I can segment my list the right way and target the right people. And it’s already paid for itself over the last year I’ve been using it doing just that. In this next year, I plan to take it to the next level with ConvertKit. 

But, if you want every automation and event tracking tool under the sun, there is something even more powerful. And that’s the Drip where MailChimp lets you send emails, and Convertkit lets you know about your users.

Drip allows you to know what your users are doing. It acts as both a mailing list and a CRM. One of the super cool things about Drip is its purchase intent score. So by tracking your user’s actions through email and on your website, they’ll give them a score on how likely they are to purchase from you.

This is immensely helpful when you’re trying to delineate between those who are on the cusp of being ready to become a customer or people who are just kicking the tires and signing up for an email list because they like the free information. If you’re ready to take your selling to the absolute next level, I think you should try Drip. It’s free for up to 100 users. Then pricing starts at $49 a month. That makes it the most expensive option we’ve talked about so far. But it has the potential to be the most valuable. And You can experiment. 

If you’re using ConvertKit or MailChimp, right now, take a segment of 100 people from that list, move them to Drip, and see what happens. If it starts to pay dividends for you, then perhaps the $49 a month is totally worth it. I know that if Drip helped me sell one course a month, it would pay for itself. 

So wrapping up, that’s it for this episode.

We talked about four email list-building tools. A form on your website, MailChimp, ConvertKit, and Drip.

If you’re just starting out your own form or MailChimp offers some great features for free when you’re ready to start selling to your list, consider Convertkit or Drip. And if you wanna try your own form first, you can head over to my YouTube channel and see a video on building an email capture form with both Google forms and Ninja Forms for WordPress

So in this episode, we talked about the tools, but we didn’t really talk about the techniques. And I wanna try to keep these episodes short. So you can look for techniques for building your email list in a future episode. I’m perhaps not the best at that, but I’m trying to be better. And I know that there are a lot of tried and true things out there.

So I hope you enjoyed this episode.

For the YouTube channel and the videos and all of the show notes, you can go to [creatortoolkit.com/003]. 

If you liked this episode, be sure to leave a rating and review on Apple podcasts. And if you have any questions or want me to put together a specific toolkit, email me at joecasabona.org, or follow me on Twitter @jcasabona. 

Thanks so much for listening. And until next time. Get out there and build something.


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